The changes coming to your MCSE title with Windows 2000 give you a good reason to evaluate your career plans.

Your Future as an MCSE

The changes coming to your MCSE title with Windows 2000 give you a good reason to evaluate your career plans.

I’m an MCSE who took [Windows] NT 4.0, NT 4.0 Enterprise, and Windows 95 as my operating system core exams. Should I take the NT 4.0 Workstation exam, then take the accelerated exam to bring my certification up to date?
—Donald

One scenario I have not heard addressed is a recommendation for NT 3.51 MCSEs. What do you suggest for us lucky souls?
—Bill

I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place, because I’m currently working on my MCSE [and] have taken three tests and have three tests to go. I’ve worked very hard to get to this spot, but do I start Windows 2000 or continue and finish the NT 4.0 track?
—Angela

I’ve passed all of the NT 4.0 core exams and was planning on taking the TCP/IP and IIS electives. Should I should go ahead with my plan and later take the “update” exam or switch tracks and complete the exams in the Windows 2000 track?
—Bob

Ah, another $64,000 (or whatever the going rate is for MCSEs) question: Where do you want to go tomorrow? Where should you go tomorrow? As usual, I’ll give the standard systems person answer: It all depends.

What does it depend on? Lots of things. First, becoming certified is simply a matter of time, effort, and expense. How many of you are pursuing certification entirely on your own, on your own time and at your own expense? 

I know plenty of you are, but I believe the great majority are either partly or completely subsidized by employers. [According to our annual salary survey, about a third of MCPs say that their employers pay for the costs of certification. Another third pay for it themselves; the remaining third split the cost with employers.—Ed.] So whose decision is this, really? Yes, I know, metaphysically we all choose our own destiny, but how many of you would shell out your own money for the update classes, not to mention the tests, as well as do all this on your own time? Therefore, I’d say that your employer has a large vote in your decision on this.

I’ll divide MCPs into three broad categories: independent consultants, employees of end-user organizations, and employees of consulting/vendor organizations. If you’re a consulting/vendor employee, or an independent consultant for that matter, a lot will depend on your local market and job. Say you’re working with products that won’t be based on Win2K, or with a client base that is “fiscally conservative” (read: not about to upgrade anytime soon). In those cases, you need to be aware of what’s new and different in the new OS, but the certification effort probably won’t pay off for a while.

If your firm’s emphasis is on big-enterprise, latest-and-greatest, wave-of-the-future stuff, line up those Win2K classes now. I’d give a similar answer if you work for an end-user organization. If you know that management isn’t interested in Win2K until the first comprehensive Service Pack is released, you may have a while—quite a while. If, however, your company is eagerly awaiting Win2K to move from a NetWare 3.0 environment, I’m sure they’ll be interested in updating your expertise. Also, if you’re eyeing a job elsewhere, Win2K credentials may be a big sell or no sell at all, depending on which profile the company fits.

Here’s my next point: If you’re an NT 4.0 MCSE, you’ve got time. Your MCSE will expire, sure—but come on! Not until the end of 2001. That’s 22-plus months from now. Time enough to wait and see where the market goes before making a move. If you decide that having the MCSE title is still important to your career, go for it.

If you’re an MCSE who’s NT 3.51-certified, this still applies, though with a slightly different timetable. You lose your certification on June 30, 2001.

When I was a hiring manager, I looked at a lot of factors in evaluating candidates. Yes, having a certification carries weight, but experience, as Greg points out, counts more. There are still a lot of organizations (banks, for instance) that require a college degree, but they don’t care what the degree is in (which is why, as a history major, I started in banking, but that’s another story…). What they care about is that you had the intelligence, determination, and discipline to pursue a degree. Those attributes often matter more than the specific knowledge. On the other hand, some professions (say, rocket scientist) have specific knowledge requirements. The same is true in this discussion. A company that’s going to specialize in facilitating Win2K upgrades will probably be looking for Win2K-track MCSEs. An organization looking for great troubleshooters or project leads should be seeking MCSEs with a broad base of experience.

Finally, MCSEs aren’t members of such an exclusive club as they used to be, and with increasing numbers comes a certain dilution of value. Maybe you might want to look at some additions or alternatives. Red Hat now has a certification track for Linux. Cisco offers a number of certification levels for networking. The point is, there are plenty of valuable benchmarks out there. Decide what has value to you and your career, either at your current employer or your desired one, then pursue it.

About the Author

Steve Crandall, MCSE, is a principal of ChangeOverTime, a technology consulting firm in Cleveland, Ohio, that specializes in small business and non-profit organizations. He's also assistant professor of Information Technology at Myers College and a contributing writer for Microsoft Certified Professional Magazine.

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